Thursday, December 23, 2010

A simple plan… goes horribly, horribly wrong.

We had a great itinerary for traveling back to the US for Christmas. Let’s call this plan Alpha. Alpha was sleek, streamline, familiar, and beautiful. Alpha was to take about 16 hours door to door- quite reasonable for traveling between a small town in Scotland and Midwest America. She was the best plan we could hope for, especially in traveling with a 10 month old baby.

Then winter weather pummelled the UK, particularly London- which, of course, was our connecting city. At 2:30AM, Alpha was dealt a serious blow- we learned that our flight from Edinburgh to London was cancelled.

Yet there was hope she could be resuscitated- another flight to London was to leave just an hour earlier than ours. We awoke very early in the morning and took a taxi to Edinburgh to try to get on it.

Alpha passed away shortly after we arrived at the airport- the queue at the service desk for our airline would haven taken at least 6 hours, long after the departure of the alternative flight to London.

At this point it became clear that we were at a dead end. London Heathrow airport had not been accepting flights for a day or two, and it was obvious there was no way we could be rescheduled on another transatlantic flight before Christmas. Since many transatlantic flights were leaving from London, we needed to get there to make our connection.

Arriving just after us at the airport were our friends Kevin and Chaiss with their young daughter. They too were on the cancelled flight to London; they too just wanted to get home for Christmas. Realizing we were in the same situation, we split a taxi to Glasgow airport (2 hour trip) in the hopes that we might catch a flight to London and make our connections. Alpha just might not be dead after all.

We arrived in Glasgow to find Alpha’s ice cold corpse- the service queue for our airline was long and their flight to London was also cancelled. But both families decided we needed to keep trying, so we entered what would be a 4 hour queue for our airline’s service desk.

When finally reaching assistance, plan Beta was birthed. Beta was like a port-a-potty: ugly in almost all respects, but gets the job done. Beta was an evening flight from Glasgow to Dublin, an overnight in a hotel in Dublin, and early morning train to Shannon (in southwest Ireland), a noon flight to Boston, a short layover for a connection to Chicago (or, for our friends, to Houston).

Beta died just a few hours later at the boarding gate of the flight to Dublin. All flights to Dublin cancelled due to snow. Back to the service queue for another 4 hour wait.

At about 10PM the kind airline worker gave us plan Gamma. Gamma was like Beta’s homely sister- very similar, but not as good- it was a day later and took us through New York rather than Boston. We needed lodging for the night in Glasgow, and all the hotels near the airport were booked. A phone call to a very accommodating friend of mine who happens to live in Glasgow saved all 6 of us from sleeping in the airport.

After a rejuvenating night’s sleep and some wonderful hospitality, we prepared to return to the airport… then Dublin airport closed for a few hours, then indefinitely. Flight cancelled, death to Gamma.

We immediately hatched plan Delta. Delta consisted largely of desperation mixed with sheer determination. Delta was 2 hour drive to the west coast of Scotland, a 2 hour late night ferry over to Belfast, Ireland, and what would be a 6 hour overnight taxi to Shannon airport where we would resume following Gamma.

Already worn down from 2 days of (mostly just attempting to) travel, the ferry was nauseating but surprisingly luxurious. Exhaustion was in full effect. The taxi journey, which endured from 11pm to 5am and essentially crossed the entire island of Ireland, involved terrifyingly hazardous winter conditions. While both kids slept on the ride, no adults did. Oh, and the taxi cost more than my original transatlantic plane ticket- but it got us to Shannon.

In the end, Delta was successful- Shannon onward was uneventful, apart from the delirium induced by slept-deprivation.

70 hours of travel, a total of 7.5 hours of sleep. It’s hard to rightly describe this experience: exhaustion, hope, frustration, patience, devastating disappointment, resolute determination, fervent prayer. Yet God’s grace was evident in a sweet, easygoing and sleep-anywhere baby, good traveling companions, hospitable Glaswegian friends, helpful taxi drivers, kind and sympathetic strangers, hard-working ticket agents, everything we really needed just when we needed it, and Kate’s first Christmas with all our family.

Friday, December 3, 2010

How Deep the Father's Love for Us?

Our church’s denomination recently decided to allow for the use of worship material beyond the a capella singing of metered Psalms (although also specified was that the Psalms ought not be entirely abandoned). This decision sits well with me, but that discussion is not the purpose of this post. Rather, I’d like to hash out some fragmented thoughts I’ve ruminated over the past few days, thoughts occasioned by one of the first non-psalms our congregation sang. Last Sunday we sang How Deep the Father's Love for Us by Stuart Townend. Lyrics are as follows:

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

I’ve always enjoyed the song, finding it edifying in both corporate worship and my personal spiritual life. I regularly sing it to Kate as she falls asleep. However, after the service several of us theologians were chatting over tea and a few expressed objection to the song’s line “The Father turns His face away,” contending that it was essentially misguided and wrong, not least because “never were the Son and the Father more unified and in agreement than at the cross.” (Quoted as best and I can remember it, but this certainly captures the gist of the complaint)

I was a bit surprised by this strong resistance and I attempted a defence of the line and the song as a whole, which was generally met by polite acknowledgment and further discussion. Yet as the day and then week went on I became more dissatisfied with the inadequacy of my “from the hip” response. “The Father turns His face away” is a good way to express a truth about what happened on the cross (although of course not exhaustive or comprehensive), and this post, then, is my fuller defence of Townend.

Much of the imagery of the song is drawn from Scripture itself (see “ransom”, last line, and Mk 10:45), particularly the events of the crucifixion as narrated in the Gospels. Although we must recognize the possibility that Townend is misunderstanding or misusing these images, I contend that this is not the case. In the song’s context he speaks of Jesus’ pain, wounds, and suffering, of those who mocked him, and of his cry of “it is finished”; following this I suggest that with the line in question, “The Father turns His face away,” Townend refers to Jesus’ cry of abandonment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46; Mk. 15:34).

The line in fact is attempting to express a truth also expressed in Scripture—not only did the cross involve physical agony for Jesus, but apparently involved some felt absence of his heavenly Father as well. I will below argue that this absence is best understood as being spiritual and relational, but first we must consider Ps. 22, because Jesus in this cry is quoting the first line of the Psalm. (I draw from Beale, G. K., and D. A. Carson. Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007, pgs 98-99.)

In Psalm 22, vv. 1-18 contain the psalmist’s dire situation where he hits the point of despair. His enemies attack him and cast lots over his clothing (vv. 16-18). He cries to God for deliverance (vv. 19-21) and promises to proclaim God’s great acts once delivered (vv. 22-25). This deliverance will be, in the end, so great that the whole earth will worship (vv. 26-31).

Remarkable are the close parallels between Ps 22 and the events of the crucifixion. Consider the similarities: a cry of abandonment (vv. 1-2), despising and mocking (vv. 6-7), taunting to the effect “if he’s really on the ‘in’ with God, let God deliver him!” (v. 8), an experience of suffering that results in personal “emptying”—being “poured out,” being depleted of strength, etc. (vv. 14-15), wicked onlookers (v. 16a), piercing of his hands and feet (v. 16b), and the casting lots for his clothes (v. 18).

But what about the end of the Psalm? The deliverance? A major question is this: was Jesus in his cry of dereliction alluding to the whole psalm, including the victory at the end? If so, even in his expression of abandonment his words anticipate the victory with which the psalm concludes. While this is possible, and certainly seems to find realization in the empty tomb, we must not diminish the identification of Jesus’ experience with the first part of the Psalm. Further it is unlikely that the gospel writers wanted us to directly see the whole of the psalm in Jesus’ quote of this one verse, as this is not something that Jesus does elsewhere in the Gospels. We should not yet look towards Jesus’ vindication in his use of this verse, so as to undercut the reality of his abandonment (although the hint does seem to be there in the overall gospel narrative).

Rather, we should say this: in some way Jesus, in his humanity, genuinely did experience or sense the abandonment of his Father. Church history has largely seen this as a moment of divine abandonment. But abandonment in what sense? Certainly not in every and any sense, because both God the Father and God the Son were in complete unity over the decision that the Son would take on human flesh and go to the cross. The sense in which Jesus on the cross appropriately felt abandoned by God the Father is admittedly somewhat mysterious, but we can get at it a bit when we take up the common Scriptural imagery of Christ being a sacrifice of atonement for sinners, of the work of Christ—including but not limited to his death on the cross—being substitutionary for us. Two examples must suffice: Rom. 3:25 “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement [or ‘propitiation’ or ‘expiation’, gk hilastērion], through faith in his blood.” and 2 Cor. 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The beautiful mystery, the glorious wonder is this: God himself took on flesh, suffered and died in our stead so that we might not experience the abandonment and relational separation from God that results from our sin. Jesus experiences abandonment, suffering, and death so that we might not; he rises victorious over sin and death so that we might do the same.

I’m not sure I can say much more about what it means for the Son of God to experience abandonment, what it means when we sing “The Father turns his face away.” The depths of this wonder constitute one of the richest mysteries of the entire Gospel narratives. Yet mysterious, we know this to be true: that which was due to sinners for their sin has been wiped away, for Christ “became sin” for us. God himself fully addresses the demands of his justice—which, I should add, are fundamentally personal in God’s case—and the demands of justice drive the wrath God has towards sin. Justice cannot be shrugged off, and God is not God if he does not respond to sin and evil with due wrath. However, we must also insist that it is not a loving Christ who is placating the angry Father; it is both the love and justice of the full Godhead that meet together at the atonement. Remember that Christ and the Father are not to be severed in respect to the will for redemption—the Father’s love and the Son’s love are the same, just as the Father’s just wrath and judgment towards sin is the same as the Son’s (all authority to judge is given to him—John 5:27; Rev. 14:10; 19:11-21).

As Christmas approaches and we celebrate the Incarnation, may we all also reflect on the Atonement, for the two cannot but synthetically be separated. The infant born in the manger was the one who would become sin for us on the cross, where the Father turns His face away so that you and I might be brought to glory, so that all that is wrong with the world might be made right, and so that our sins might not separate us from God.

Indeed, how deep the Father’s love for us.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Trip to Spain

Under the pressures of the 3rd year of the PhD-trying to complete the project, getting articles published in journals, applying for jobs/postdocs, etc.-we were in need of a getaway.  Couple this with some credit card reward points redeemable for travel, and the call to Spain, with her warmth and affordability, was quite difficult to resist.

I’ve read that over 200,000 Brits have relocated to Spain- there certainly were more than few in the built up areas along the coast.  In the grossly overdeveloped area of Torremolinos (pictured below) every restaurant, regardless of what type of food they served, had on the menu something like “English Breakfast,” “Bangers and Mash,” or “Fish and Chips”.  Why move from the UK to Spain only to eat (bland) British food?  Notice in the picture below, the high-rise condo building- these were everywhere along the coast and were, frankly, tacky.  Equally tacky was the ubiquity of inebriated Englishmen, so much so that I couldn’t resist modifying a classic poem:  “Brits, Brits, everywhere; and most of them are drunk.”  After the first day we soon learned to avoid these trappings and venture into the less touristy, more Spanish areas (i.e., away from the coast).  IMG_2356

The village of Ronda provided a wonderful day trip- perched in the mountains to the west of Malaga, all the buildings are whitewashed, and the effect is very vivid.

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However, the most stunning feature of the town is certainly the bridge over the canyon that divides the city.

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Also in Ronda is the Plaza de Toros de Ronda, the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain.  Although I have ethical positions than would prevent me from attending an actual bullfight, visiting the empty ring and connected museum was enjoyable.

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The food fantastic!  We ate every meal seated outside at a cafe/restaurant.  Although the tapas did not disappoint, particularly noteworthy was the paella, which all 3 of us found delicious.

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There is apparently some tradition of hanging (cured?) pig’s legs in certain types of restaurants, as we saw several of these. 

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Another highlight was the city of Granada, with the Alhambra, a Moorish palace and fortress build in the 14th century.  The walls of the Palace are lined with ornate and intricate carvings that incorporate bits of Arabic.

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The Alhambra provides a stunning view of the city of Granada and the surrounding mountains.

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And for all traveling and schedule changing we inflicted upon Kate, she did very well.  I even couldn’t resist a Spanish Flamenco dress…

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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Kate: a video

After learning parenthood would soon be upon me, I vowed not to become the type of person whose Facebook status updates are overrun with mundane details about their kid or whose blog becomes a shrine to their offspring. Sara and I love Kate very deeply and she is of course one of the most important aspects of our lives, but the internet world doesn't need to see every picture we take of her or hear graphic details about dirty diapers. More than a few people have failed to avoid this type of trapping, even a few people we know; I'd like to think, just maybe, so far I've succeeded at striking a reasonable balance.

All of that, then, is a prefacing apologetic for the video of Kate below. Also, I apologize that it breaks my "2 minute" rule of thumb (essentially, unless the child can do something absolutely amazing like juggle whilst riding a unicycle or play the guitar solo from Stairway to Heaven, internet videos of kids that will be inflicted upon other people should be edited down to about 2 minutes, max).


So here it is: Kate, highly motivated by a piece of paper, shows just how mobile she has become lately. (Press play below to watch the smaller, embedded video; click on the video or here to see the larger version).









One last note- check the previous post for links to a 2-part guest bit I wrote on The Simpsons over on Transpositions (the blog for students associated with Institute for Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at the University of St Andrews).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My post on "The Simpsons" on the ITIA blog

I have a 2 part blog post over on the blog of the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts at St Mary's college here at St Andrews. Any fan of The Simpsons should be interested.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Guide to bringing a pet into the UK

A few incoming and potential students have inquired about this, so I thought I would post a link to it here on this blog.

My guide to bringing a pet into the UK: http://talk.uk-yankee.com/index.php?topic=46708.0

It is remarkably complicated to bring a dog or cat (or ferret) into the UK from abroad. We successfully followed the PETS scheme and completely avoided quarantine. If this is relevant to your situation, you should find it helpful.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A month in Paris

Credo for Survival in Paris:

Start with an apology or ask for permission.

Respect the authority and wait to be acknowledged.

Hold to form.  Charm your way.

Never raise your voice.

Never ask for a person's name.

Never ask for a supervisor.

Never curse in English.

Never disagree.  Always agree, but repeat what you want.

Never moralize.

Never intimate that things are better back home.

Say you're sorry when you're really not.

Order another express (coffee).

-from David Applefield, "Paris Inside Out: The Insider's Handbook to Life in Paris"  5th Ed. Guilford, Connecticut, 2000.

After living for a month in Paris, I can affirm this short little gem from the introduction found in a guidebook to be insightful and true.  The French are an interesting people, remarkable in some things (bread, whine, cheese), depressing in others (rampant and empty secularism). 

Our time in Paris was made possible by a generous bursary for me to take a French language course, essentially providing for the whole month to be at minimal expense to us.  The language course was excellent and my instructor was very good: after 4 weeks of morning French classes I’ve gotten to the point where I can (of course armed with a French-English dictionary) translate academic articles written in French.  It is slow-going, and I’m sure my translations are a bit crude, but it gets the job done.

We experienced a great deal of Paris, more than can be summarized in one blog post.  However, here are some highlights:

We walked all over the city, which is a fantastic way to see Paris:

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Kate was quite easygoing with the travel as we dragged her through museums, cafes, and parks:

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Well known sites like Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower did not disappoint:

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(inside Notre Dame)

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Other sites we enjoyed:

Sacré Cœur

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The Catacombs of Paris (one of my favourite things we did in Paris: it is an underground burial site for the dead who were excavated from graveyards where mass graves were causing horrible disease; during the Revolution era the remains of millions of Parisians were transported and stacked underground)IMG_1851

Public space in Paris is used very well, and we spent quite a bit of time in parks:

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We also enjoyed some very fine cuisine, and most any street cafe had excellent food.  This one was just closing down for the night:

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The museums are incredible; this is a nice shot I took inside the Pompidou:

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A very famous statue often used to represent philosophy, “The Thinker” (Le Penseur) can be found in the gardens of the Musée Rodin.  Most people don’t realize that The Thinker is merely an enlarged figure from an earlier Rodin sculpture, “The Gates of Hell”, depicting a scene from Dante’s Inferno.  “The Poet” (which turned into “The Thinker” is said to be Dante himself, reflecting on his work.  (And by the way, Dante’s Divine Comedy, including The Inferno, is to be read as highly metaphorical.  He’s not describing hell literally, a fact lost on more than a few readers today…)

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Finally, Kate’s time in Paris included learning to sit on her own and beginning to eat some solid foods. 

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Au revoir, Paris!

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Finally, in some academic news, the issue of Philosophia Christi with my journal article has been released: “Annihilationism, Traditionalism, and the Problem of Hell”, Philosophia Christi Vol. 12 No. 1: 61-79.  For copyright reasons I can’t post the article online, but drop me an email if you’re interested in reading it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

2010 U.S. Tour!

We made a trip back to the States to visit family and friends.  Kate saw all sorts of interesting people… (this is just a sampling- too many more not listed here!)

She saw her grandmother:

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She met her aunt Sam and cousin Molly, who tickled her:

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She met her friend Cameron:

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She met several friends who live in Kansas:

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She and Jeremiah really hit it off:

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Uncle Brad, aunt Megan, and cousin Emily were fun:

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She met grandpa:

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Her cousin Joseph played peek-a-boo with her:

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She met aunt Lisa:

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…and her cousin Ally:

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She saw again her other grandma:

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and her uncle Scott:

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We spent a week on the beach with Sara’s family (and the Egan family):

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She had fun with her Ahlgrim-side cousins:

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and with Sara’s whole family:

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and finally, she went swimming for the first time and thought it was hilarious.

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It was an enjoyable trip, although the near-nonstop travel and visiting were exhausting!

We’re back home in Scotland, but leave for Paris in just a few short days.  We have a fully-funded month in France courtesy of some obscure foundation, and I will be taking some French language classes.  More details from France soon!